Give Me the Child
If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers, you’re living in the perfect era. It seems like a new thriller with a shocking twist comes out every few weeks, and I’ll be the first to admit I couldn’t be happier about it. From the moment I read the blurb for Mel McGrath’s Give Me the Child, I knew it was just the sort of book I’d love.
Dr. Cat Lupo spends her days treating children who have been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. It’s hard, often thankless work, but Cat loves it. Her nights are spent with her husband and young daughter, and to all intents and purposes, Cat is living exactly the life she wants. Few people know she’s wrestling with an extremely difficult decision.
Cat longs to have another child, but when she was pregnant with her now preteen daughter Freya, she experienced an intense period of psychosis and is worried it will return if she embarks upon another pregnancy. Her husband,Tom, isn’t willing to risk it, but Cat isn’t sure he’s right – after all, it’s entirely possible things could go off without a hitch.
Then, late one night, the doorbell rings and is opened to a police officer with an eleven-year-old girl in tow. Ruby Winter is apparently Tom’s daughter, the product of an affair he had while Cat was pregnant with Freya. Ruby’s mother has died under very suspicious circumstances, and Tom is the only family young Ruby has.
Cat knows she and Tom have to help Ruby, but as days go by, she begins to suspect that all is not right with the girl. She seems to be very manipulative, and she wields a kind of power over the more naive Freya. Cat brings her concerns to Tom, but he tells her she’s imagining things, even going so far as to suggest her psychosis might be returning. But, if Cat knows anything, it’s mentally ill children, and she soon becomes positive that’s exactly what Ruby is.
Give Me the Child is a darkly disturbing story of childhood mental illness and the effect it has on a family, but it’s also a thrilling mystery. Initially, it seems quite obvious that Ruby has a ton of problems, but as the story unfolded, I found myself wondering if Cat was all that reliable of a narrator. Was it possible she was imagining things, or was Tom right about the return of her own mental problems? The truth was pretty much impossible to discern until the very end of the story.
I was a bit confused by the insertion of a subplot dealing with a series of racially-motivated riots in the town where Cat and her family live. It didn’t have much to do with the main plot of the novel, and I found it distracting. I suppose it might have been meant to add some additional urgency to the story, but instead, I was tempted to skim the pages devoted to the riots so I could find out what was going on in Cat’s home.
I was really pleased with the way the author deals with the relationship between Tom and Cat. At first, they seem like a perfectly happy couple, but the cracks in their marriage soon become apparent. I could almost feel the tension brewing between them as the story progresses and things in their home become more and more unsettled. I was glad the author allowed this tension to exist, as it gave the novel an extra element of believability. A couple can’t go through everything the Lupos are experiencing without a certain amount of strife.
I want to point out that there are a couple of scenes in the book that might make some readers uncomfortable. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you have a hard time reading about children with extreme mental illness, you might want to give this novel a pass. The level of violence is pretty much on par with that found in other books of this type, but the subject matter could prove triggering for some.
All in all, I found Give Me the Child to be an engrossing read with well-drawn characters and a compelling plot that I am pleased to recommend to fans of dark thrillers. This was my first experience with Mel McGrath’s work, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of it.